Entering the theater for the world premiere of Feral
, ushers informed us that the heat will shut off when the performance begins. “It’ll get progressively colder,” we’re warned. “Hang on to your coats.” This was, oddly, not an intentional metacommentary about life on the streets in Bruce Hostetler’s play, an exploration of homelessness in Portland that draws from more than 500 interviews. Feral
follows the newly homeless Alan (a sympathetically skittish Tommy Harrington) over the course of a single January night. Audience members might endure 100 minutes of shivery temperatures, but that’s put in perspective as the seven homeless characters discuss the discomfort and fear of sleeping outside and advise Alan on how to stay warm and dry—and that’s all before they dig into their darker personal stories. Directed by Asae Dean, Feral
steers largely clear of ham-fisted didacticism or maudlin speechifying. As the performance begins, Alan finds himself clutching his duffel in the center of the stage. The group paces in a circle, heckling Alan like a perverse Greek chorus. Once this stagy bit of circus is complete, though, dramatic tension is allowed to emerge more organically through rapid-fire exchange and fragmented monologue. As the night progresses, stories turn from darkly humorous—the group discusses how to write a sign that will generate the most coin, for example—to harrowing. The script still has some kinks, and pacing can lag. Better than the semi-philosophical musings on homelessness and injustice are the direct interactions between characters, some of which carry serious heat (Sam Burns, tightly wound and ready to snap, conveys particular immediacy). Though Feral
ends on a strangely bright note, which rings false, in its best moments it’s an impassioned piece that serves as a humane, sobering and occasionally wry reminder of the scope of human experience.
Bob White TheatrePhone:
6423 SE Foster RoadWebsite: https://www.boxofficetickets.com/go/event?id=208405